Honors College Theses

Publication Date



History (B.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Alena Pirok


The Grateful Dead were one of the most successful and enduring bands to come out of the original hippie counterculture of the late 1960’s. Beginning as a small, experimental blues-rock group with no desire to pursue commercial success, fame and fortune nonetheless found the Dead over the course of their three decades on the road. Through constant touring, a consistent level of apathy towards business and making money, and with the help of arguably the most dedicated fanbase in music history, the Grateful Dead became more than just a band, they were the face of a new cultural phenomenon that mirrored all of the virtues and vices of the counterculture that created them. As is the ideal for a market economy however, widespread fame often leads to widespread commercialization.

This thesis examines the Grateful Dead and their followers the Dead Heads, exploring their complex relationships with fame, money, and capitalism and asking how a band so defined by its anti-consumerist roots could become a highly recognizable and infinitely marketable brand that has carried on into the current century. Examining such changes can perhaps better explain how the American mass market co-opted, clashed with, and cashed in on a counterculture throughout the last decades of the twentieth century.